As we write this Blog on the 51st anniversary of World Earth day, 40 world leaders are engaged in a Virtual Climate Summit convened by President Joseph Biden. The aims among others, are to galvanize efforts by the world’s major economies to keep a limit of global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to protect lives and livelihoods from the impacts of climate change. His aspirational goal for USA is to achieve net zero by 2050. It seemed to simulate positive responses from China and many other countries including Russia. Reinstating the USA in the 2015 Paris Agreement as one the first acts of his Presidency indicates a serious intent to respond to the science which shows that threats of climate change are mounting. Global average temperatures are rising. There is increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires. All these affect the health and safety of communities around the world. According to a recent report from the UN, without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and invest in sustainable development, climate change could push 100 million people into extreme poverty in the next decade.
Earth Day was initiated on April 22, 1970 in the USA with demonstrations involving 20 million Americans against dangerously serious issues such as: toxic drinking water, air pollution, and the effects of pesticides. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, provided a model for other countries and introduced laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Despite these efforts, carbon emissions have increased worldwide due to human abuse of the environment. The world’s tropical forests, a reservoir for trapping carbon emissions are rapidly being destroyed. So have the natural habitat of wildlife species. Conserving and restoring tropical forests and wildlife are among the most immediate steps necessary to reduce the risk of future pandemics.
What is more, biodiversity that underpins all life on Earth from the genetic make up of plants and animals to cultural diversity is under serious attack. WHO’s state of knowledge report jointly published with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) fully amplifies the health consequences of biodiversity loss and change. https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/connecting-global-priorities-biodiversity-and-human-health . They show that the impact on nutrition, new infectious diseases and on the shifts in the distribution of plants, pathogens, animals, and even human settlements, are all affected by climate change. This is why international organizations, national governments, and companies are spending some 95 percent of their climate-related investment on carbon emission reductions. But those efforts will serve to prevent only the worst-case scenarios. The fact is that climate change has already done a great deal of damage and that more harmful effects will be impossible to avert altogether.
World leaders at the Biden Summit on Climate Change have mostly referred to high tech solutions such as solar panels, electric vehicles, targets to transition to on-grid services and new construction, farming and battery technologies. Yet reducing emissions is just half the battle. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, shows how restoring our damaged ecosystems will help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction. Fortunately, most of the adjustments needed to lessen their impact are not difficult. Many adaptations do not require new technology. Nor do they have to pass through ‘the political minefield of international climate action’. Instead, many simply require citizens to take the initiative in their local communities.
Two illustrations from the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region are pertinent.
First, St Lucia has just launched a stimulating 4-minute animated video designed to raise public awareness about climate change. Second, Latin America and the Caribbean 24 states are signatories, while 12 have ratified the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters known as the Escazú Agreement
came into force on World’s Earth Day 2021. It also commemorates International Mother Earth Day. To mark the occasion, the UN Secretary General says “we must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption”. This statement aptly describes the stark reality of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines currently in a major crisis from La Soufrière, silent since 1979, that combines a volcanic eruption, its largest COVID-19 surge since the pandemic, the region’s worst Dengue outbreak in recent history, and a new, possibly deadly, hurricane season. With further eruptions expected in the coming weeks, experts believe that the growing humanitarian crisis will last months. The UN launching a $29.2 million global funding appeal is an illustration of Global solidarity.
However, it was Prime Minister Brown of Antigua and Barbuda speaking on behalf of the the 44 members of the Alliance of Small Island States (OASIS) at the Summit, that highlighted the fact these countries contributing just 1.5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized nations, are the most affected by climate change. Yet many of them have already begun to roll out ambitious programmes to reduce their small carbon footprint, particularly in renewable energy. He made the economic case for concessional financing for small states based on unsustainable levels of debt because of repeated borrowings to rebuild and recover from continuous debilitation by natural disasters, arising from climate change. He also advocated for dismantling the false criterion of middle and high per capita income countries, which ignores the huge vulnerabilities that small states face. “This requires action to design new and innovative financial instruments and to provide debt relief, including debt cancellation, debt suspension, debt rescheduling, debt restructuring and debt-for-climate swap.” He also called for funding to compensate for damage to help reconstruct the AOSIS economies and funding to acquire decarbonized technologies to assist in building resilience. These demands are by no means new or novel but they require restating. Now is the time for more collective advocacy by AOSIS in the run up to the Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in December 2021.
Again as was the case at the Climate Change debates at the UN in September 2019, it was the voice of youth on the problem and the need to “Restore our Earth” that resonated through Greta Thunberg’s:
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.